Even as the first domestic deals begin to trickle out here, the European Film Market kicked off today in Berlin against a uniquely challenging economic and geopolitical backdrop. Currencies are in flux, but the first international market of the year could also be an opportunity for European studios to flex some muscle — if they can afford it.
Peppering the bumpy landscape here are the strong dollar, stuttering euro, record-low oil prices — and their impact on economies like Russia — fears over security in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and, if that wasn’t enough, the possibility of Greek default and exit from the euro. The currency issues will impact buying, but international and domestic indie distributors need product to fill their 2016 slates giving this market potential. Plus, Harvey is already making headlines.
At the same time, buyers and sellers were forced to scurry more than ever this year as Sundance nearly overlapped with the Berlinale. That made getting packages together more challenging while the frenzy of multi-territory studio deals in Park City took some product off the table. Although many Sundance movies aren’t geared to a crossover audience, one French buyer particularly laments Brooklyn, on which Fox Searchlight basically bought the world. “That one could have been good for the indies,” they say.
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U.S. buyers are expected to get into the action again here. Alchemy’s Jeff Deutchman, which acquired the Nicole Kidman-starrer Strangerland in Park City, intends to be quite aggressive. The Weinstein Company, which set a record Berlin deal last year on The Imitation Game, didn’t buy anything in Sundance, but today announced it will co-finance and distribute Antoine Fuqua’s The Man Who Made It Snow.
It generally bodes well for the market if the Weinsteins are busy early on. But, the company has some international buyers scratching their heads over the elephant in the room that is The Hateful Eight. The Quentin Tarantino project, officially at least, remains unsold and buyers themselves are wondering what is going on in a very unusual situation. The official line from the company is that no announcement is expected during Berlin.
Deals on the top-level projects will have been closed before the market started and many feel there is a paucity of big product here — Hacksaw Ridge and Gold are among the exceptions. Although Mel Gibson can be a challenge domestically, he’s directing Hacksaw Ridge, which IM Global is selling, and scuttlebutt is that the WWII pic could tap into the audience that flocked to The Passion Of The Christ and is currently boosting American Sniper.
Sierra/Affinity’s Gold, starring Matthew McConaughey and directed by Stephen Gaghan, is also at the top of buyers’ lists. Sierra’s Nick Meyer gushes over the project, saying, “When you’re a kid wanting to be in the movies, this is it.”
Other pre-sale titles that have people talking include Mister Smith’s Brain On Fire, Europa’s Nine Lives, Sierra’s The Bends, FilmNation’s Nic Cage-starrer Army Of One and Studiocanal’s Deep Water with Colin Firth.
On the flipside, the likes of eOne or Studiocanal could take the plunge here and ramp up their own multi-territory acquisitions. The latter is particularly flush after the box office success it’s had with Paddington and The Imitation Game.
Studiocanal’s pockets may be deep right now, but the currency situation is particularly delicate, and especially for Russia, a territory that has traditionally been good to independents. “Russia is definitively the most challenging,” says one high-profile financier and seller. “Partly due to low oil prices squeezing the economy, the devalued ruble and geopolitics making importing films more challenging. It’s definitely a territory in crisis. What’s going on there will impact the marketplace. It makes you think about if we’re even willing to pre-sell to Russia. I don’t know if certain companies will be able to see their way through the crisis and then not renegotiate later.”
UTA agent Alex Brunner says the strength of the dollar versus the euro “can swing both ways. If you’re spending euros as a production, that can work to your benefit.”
That phenomenon is well-established in the TV business and as if to underline how tough the biz is right now, Berlin — just like most film producers — is turning its head towards TV. There is a special section devoted to television here and this Berlinale will see the world premiere of Fremantle’s eight-part event series Deutschland 83 and political thriller 1992 which Sky just acquired.
Mad Men creater and showrunner Matthew Weiner is also on the main film jury.
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